Jerri Oglesby is excited to be the guinea pig. As the principal of Bells Mill, she heads what will be the first school in the Churchill Cluster to get an all-day kindergarten program. “Our whole staff is just excited and thrilled,” Oglesby said.
Elementary school principals in the Churchill Cluster meet regularly to discuss issues common to each of them, but Oglesby will not be able to rely on that support system in this instance.
Montgomery County Public Schools announced the rollout schedule on Oct. 15. Under state law, school systems statewide are required to have all-day kindergarten in all public schools by 2007.
The state determined that half-day programs were no longer meeting the needs of many students. “We have children who would benefit from that extra time,” Oglesby said.
Currently, kindergarten students attend one of two half day sessions. But educators are finding that is not enough time for needed lessons. “We have to jam pack a lot into a two-and-a-half-hour day,” Oglesby said. “To meet with success, our children need to be beyond the minimum standard.”
The biggest challenge Oglesby foresees next year is a perennial problem for schools across the county. “It is going to be challenging space-wise,” Oglesby said. “We could have three all-day kindergarten rooms next year.”
She expects enrollment to increase as a result of the all-day program. currently, many parents have children enrolled in private programs which provide all-day care and instruction.
Others will use a second half-day program. “The majority of my children also go to a complimentary program,” Oglesby said.
She thinks that the all-day program will attract parents who have been using private kindergarten programs. “The fact that we’re all day is really going to attract more,” Oglesby said.
All of these extra little bodies will translate into a need for more classroom space. If Bells Mill’s enrollment ends up as high as some think, “we would need to add at least two portables,” Oglesby said.
Typically, older students are the first to be placed in portable classrooms, which means that the fourth grade (fifth grade is already in portables) would be most likely to make the move.
Core facilities will be potentially problematic for schools. “My lunch rooms are now packed,” Oglesby said.
Currently, kindergartners do not eat lunch at school. After the switch to all-day, they will eat at school.
Bells Mill has three lunch periods running from 11:45 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. “We like to give the children 30 minutes to eat,” Oglesby said. She has not yet decided how to tackle the lunch issue.
The rollout schedule was developed by a task force with representatives from across the county. The task force developed a set of criteria for which schools would be given priority for receiving the program (see sidebar). “The plan really does start with the students who are most in need,” said Kate Harrison, spokesperson for Montgomery County Public Schools.
Parents from schools at the end of the list are content with the process and do not feel slighted. ‘I think that the criteria was fair,’ said Joanne Sperling, president of the Beverly Farms PTA. Beverly Farms is the last Churchill Cluster school on the list.
“We wish it would be otherwise,” Sperling said, “[but] everyone that I’ve spoken to is understanding.”